Sora’s mother looks up from rifling through the fridge. “You’re back early,” she remarks. “I thought you and your friends went to the islet.”
Sora removes his shoes at the door. “We did, but Riku wanted to study.“
“Ah, I see…” She stands up, setting some items on the kitchen counter. “Of course, I’m not surprised. Exams soon, right?”
“Yeah…” He turns to put his book bag on a coat hook.
“Oh, Sora,” says Mom, suddenly, “your uniform is a mess! What have you been doing?”
Sora looks over himself. His shirt and tie are dusty, and the knees of his trousers are covered in dirt. It must have happened when he crawled into the cave. “Spelunking.”
Mom sighs. “Really… I’m used to dusting off sand, but… And your hair, too…” She shakes her head. “Go put your clothes in the wash and take a bath. I’ll have dinner ready when you’re down. Okay?”
After a decent-length soak in the tub, he comes back downstairs in a clean pair of slacks and an old t-shirt to find Mom setting food on the table. He sits down, then she does; they say grace, and then eat.
Sora digs into the shrimp quickly, but it’s not very long until he realises Mom isn’t eating quite so readily as he is. Her eyes are flickering to the empty third chair.
“Oh.” Mom self-consciously looks at her food, face turning pink. “Oh, it’s nothing. Nothing to worry about.”
Sora blinks. Yeah, sure. “Is this about Dad?”
“…A little,” she admits. “He called earlier, while you were at school. There’s bad weather rolling in. A storm, he says.”
Ah. That explains it.
“He’s scheduled to be out there for another few months, so it isn’t like he’ll be back soon if things go well, but…”
“It’s fine,” Sora offers, a little flatly. “It’ll be okay. He’ll come back. He always does.”
“Oh, I know that,” she lies. “I’m just concerned. If something happens to him—in the storm, or anything else—we might never know…”
To that, Sora nervously concedes.
There’s an awkward silence as Sora becomes the one to sneak glances at the chair. It might technically be normal for it to be empty right now, and Sora never worries as hard as Mom, but the idea that it might one day just be empty has certainly dampened his appetite.
Of course, it’s Sora, so ‘dampened’ is a relative term.
Mom can recognise it, at least, so after a few bites she gives him a certainly fake smile. “So, how was school today?”
“It, uh… “ Sora swallows a mouthful of rice. “It was okay.”
“What were you working on?”
“Uh…” In all frankness, he can’t really remember. Something about geography, maybe, and the outside world, and similar things that didn’t really help.
“I hope you’re absorbing it all, you know. When you’re at this point next year, I expect you to be studying as hard as Riku is now. In fact—” she makes somewhat of a dramatic show of chewing her food in thought, “you have your own tests upcoming, don’t you?”
Sora shudders. Mom laughs. “Come on,” she says, “if we do some studying tonight, maybe two hours, I’ll get out the ice cream and then after that we’ll watch a video. That make sense?”
Begrudgingly, on the last bite of his meal, he accepts.
It’s difficult to go over the maps without getting a little unnerved by the sheer amount of blue between the islands and everything else. Somehow the ocean looks even bigger when it’s been shrunk down onto a piece of paper.
There’s at least the knowledge that the world doesn’t just fall away after a while. That taunting ocean connects the world just as much as it separates it. If he draws his finger west, for example, he eventually comes across the mainland, and Cuordrazza. That’s where Kairi comes from.
At least Mom makes for an interesting (and distracting) study partner. There’s a lot she’s forgotten from her own middle school days, and the textbooks have changed since, so their note-taking is punctuated every so often by some variation on “I didn’t know that”. At the same time, her experience lets her fill Sora in on some of the island’s more confusing intricacies.
It’s strange how there’s stuff Sora apparently needs to know that she doesn’t, but other stuff she uses every day that he can’t begin to wrap his head around.
Of course, he supposes, there must be stuff she’s just wrong about. But considering how well they’re doing, it doesn’t seem to matter all that much.
When they stop, Mom kneels by the television cabinet and pulls out the video collection. “Which one do you wanna watch tonight?”
After a moment of consideration, he picks out a tape, and they settle down on the sofa with their bowls of vanilla ice cream with sprinkles.
As the advertisements come to an end and the opening song plays, Mom coos. “Ah! We haven’t watched this one in a while…”
Sora nods, not really listening, too busy focusing on the screen.
The videos are that rare thing on this island that he doesn’t mind seeing over and over again. Film, after all, isn’t like the rest of the islands. The mountains will always stay the same; so will the caverns and cays. Film by default isn’t film unless it changes. That’s why they call them ‘movies’.
Even if he were to be reductionist about it, to try and say he’s just staring at a picture for an hour, he can’t, because that’s not true at all. It’s thousands of pictures, flickering at a speed only just slow enough for the eye to see without recognising them as separate. Technically, it’s a new sight every fraction of a second.
Okay, sure, he’s watched them so many times that he’s near memorised the stories, so it’s not necessarily a brand new sight. But it’s almost enough. There are different places to explore, lots of details to notice, lines to forget and then rediscover. They’re even replaceable if he gets bored.
Certainly more than he can say for this old rock.
The ice cream comes to an end, and eventually so does the movie. As the night-time shot of the city fades into the end card, Mom gets up with a bit of a yawn. “Ah, I’d forgotten how educational that film is. It was almost like studying some more!”
“I’d forgotten the part with the plane,” says Sora, deliberately oblivious.
“Oh, yes… That was awfully sad. I’m glad he pulled through…”
Sora starts to say something else, but is cut off by his own yawning.
“Oh, did that wear you out?” Mom laughs. “Come on. School tomorrow.”
“Aww,” Sora moans, and then yawns again.
When eleven finally hits, Sora is firmly planted on top of his bed in his nightclothes, staring out the window.
Sora’s window, like most of the windows in the house, points directly at the ocean. Sora’s in particular frames the islet that he, Riku and Kairi visit, though his bed is set a little too low to look outside.
Right now, that’s not a problem.
Instead of looking at the islet he’s so tired of, Sora looks up into the sky. There’s clouds on the horizon—the storm Dad told Mom about—but other than that, it’s a clear night. With the town’s lights turned off, there are dozens of stars just about visible in the sky. It’s the same night sky that falls over the mainland.
Sora thinks about the movie he and Mom just watched, with the filmmakers travelling to another land, and waits for a light or anything that might signal the presence of a plane.
He doesn’t get to see one before he falls asleep.